Overview

Property development is increasing on Alberta’s lakeshores. Shoreland development can have cumulative, detrimental effects on lakes and lakeshore areas. Concerns include:

  • water quality changes
  • erosion of banks and shores
  • user conflicts
  • increased boating
  • loss of habitat and natural shorelines

Development approval

Landowners must obtain authorization before modifying shorelands. This ensures that:

  • all aquatic and water resource management issues are reflected in the approval
  • any unanticipated issues are addressed before construction
  • construction does not occur during sensitive times when fish spawn or birds nest

Common lakeshore activities

Aquatic plant control

Aquatic vegetation beds in the shallow, littoral (shallow submerged) zone of a lake are essential to the lake’s health and ecology. Aquatic plants:

  • provide breeding, nesting and shelter areas for birds and fish
  • limit shore erosion by significantly reducing the erosive energy of waves
  • maintain water quality by trapping and stabilizing sediment

Waterfront property owners may wish to clear aquatic plants to:

  • place piers or boat lifts on lakebeds
  • make boat lanes to access open water
  • create swimming areas

Controlled aquatic vegetation removal may be approved in some circumstances. The guidelines are outlined in Aquatic Vegetation Removal from Alberta Lakes.

Beaches, beach renovations and sand dumping

Very few Alberta lakes have shores of natural sand. Beaches usually need to be constructed. Depositing sand on the shore and shallow lake bed can:

  • cover good fish habitat or nesting areas
  • introduce weeds, fine sediment and other harmful substances
  • wash away quickly to other areas of the shore or into the lake Beach construction is generally allowed on private property but must be located above the ordinary high water mark or bank of a lake. Public beaches may also be approved on Alberta lakes and in provincial parks.

Dredging

Removing fill or sediment from a lake can have a significant effect on the aquatic environment. You must obtain prior approval before dredging.

Environmental reserves

Local municipalities may own land that sits between the lake and private property. These environmental or municipal reserves:

  • maintain public access to the lake
  • provide a buffer area between developed areas and the lake
  • are usually maintained in a natural state

Local municipalities govern and approve activities on reserve lands. AEP must issue an approval to the municipality for any work that affects the lakebed and shore next to reserve land.

Erosion protection

Waterfront landowners have a common-law right to protect their land from erosion. They may construct erosion protection features up to the natural boundary of their property. Approval from the Crown is required to construct these works if they disturb the natural boundary, bank or the bed of the water body.

Some sites will need a structurally engineered solution to erosion. The design should consider:

  • the erosion potential of the shore and bank
  • the expected wave environment for the site

Many other sites can reduce land erosion by:

  • allowing native vegetation to regrow
  • planting vegetation to add structural stability

To determine the erosion potential of a site, see:

Erosion Potential (EP) Scores and Categories
EP Score Erosion Potential Erosion Control
0-20 Low Allow natural regeneration to occur. Allow emergent vegetation to re-grow. Scores at upper end of range, use bio-engineering techniques.
20-35 Medium Use bio-engineering and armouring to control erosion. Requires engineering design and review.
35 + High Use engineered solution. Requires engineering design and review.

Marinas

Inland marinas

Inland marinas are constructed by excavating private land to create a basin next to a water body. They:

  • do not require a long-term Public Lands Act disposition
  • require written approval to breach the bank of the lake to fill the basin
  • need written approval to dredge an access channel in the lake
  • may require additional municipal and/or federal approvals

Open water marinas

Open water marinas are constructed directly in a water body. They:

  • often involve construction of a breakwater to protect the harbour basin
  • require a formal Public Lands Act disposition to occupy the lakebed
  • need a development plan for new or expanding marinas

The approval process for open water marinas includes:

  • a pre-application meeting to clarify regulatory requirements
  • public notification to determine if the proposal is in the public interest
  • a multi-jurisdictional review of the detailed plan

Mooring structures

Mooring structures include:

  • docks/piers
  • mooring anchors for buoys
  • boat lifts and shelters
  • swimming rafts and wharves

You need authorization to place any mooring structure into a lake for more than 14 days (Public Lands Administration Regulation). This applies to the seasonal use of a dock by a waterfront landowner for personal recreational use.

Exceptions to the placement of mooring structures may apply when:

  • other plans limit or restrict such uses:
    • local municipal development plans
    • lake management plans
    • water management plans
  • the province or federal government has set restrictions around an environmentally sensitive area or management concern
  • the structure blocks public access along the lakebed or shore of the lake
  • the structure's design interferes with the normal flow of water
  • the structure increases the probability of bank or shoreline erosion
It is your responsibility to determine if any area of a lake is subject to a restriction. Contact your local municipal planning office and provincial or federal regulatory office. Without prior approval, mooring structures may have to be removed.

Permanent structures

Permanent structures include:

  • breakwaters
  • groynes (trap sand and hold it on the beach)
  • piers

Permanent structures placed on a lakebed can:

  • significantly alter the movement of water
  • affect the erosion, transport and deposit of sediment along a shore
  • interfere with the public's right of navigation and access to and around the shores of a lake
All permanent structures occupying the beds and shores of a lake require a formal disposition. In general, permanent structures are not approved for private use. They may be approved for commercial or public use.